Automating data collection, brand value, and farm size adjustments — A RealAg LIVE! Q&A with AGI's Tim Close


On this Thursday edition of RealAg LIVE!, host Shaun Haney takes a deep dive into the machinery and technology side of agriculture with President and CEO of Ag Growth International, Tim Close. Shaun and Tim talk about the executive suite of AGI, discussing everything from augers, to bins, to software.

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  • How has COVID-19 impacted AGI’s business?
    • tried to react as quickly as possible to get as many facts and perspectives, and then distill that down to what was needed to protect staff and team members
    • implemented safety operations from their Italian sites and then across all 34 facilities across the business
    • the process has brought team members together in a way that couldn’t have been anticipated
  • 34 facilities — what does that look like?
    • combination of manufacturing plants, distribution points, and sales offices
    • started in Swift Current, SK, and has grown across Canada, the United States, Brazil, Italy, and India — including Nobleford, AB!
  • Currently based out of Toronto — how much does travel impact your work?
    • pre-COVID and post-COVID, for sure
    • the office in Toronto is definitely because of the international growth, to have a central spot for team members to meet
  • What percentage of AGI’s product is in the ag/ag food, versus others like biomass/forestry
    • 100% ag and food infrastructure (solutions & equipment for the entire food chain)
    • inputs, fertilizer, seed, fuel, etc., and then transportation
  • How do you make decisions on a house of brands (Westeel bins, for example); how do you manage acquisitions vs. in house brands?
    • there’s a lot represented by the acquired brands (history, customer awareness, etc.)
    • it’s important to maintain that awareness, but also bring something more to the table with AGI products
  • Why the move into the ag tech space?
    • it’s been a practical journey
    • ag is very forward in terms of technology in some aspects but not others
    • there’s an expectation of some level of technology in almost everything nowadays
    • what technology can we bring and embed to make it safer to use or more productive to use?
    • starting with embedding sensors and technology, and naturally moving to a platform to host all the information being gathered
    • faced with a huge amount of factors outside your control, you need a certain level of knowledge to maintain what you need
  • How does user experience fit into development?
    • ease of use is the number one priority
    • collection of data is automated as much as possible
    • partnership with Farmobile
    • if customers are only using 5% of the platform, it means that the rest isn’t that useful
  • Is SureTrack for farmers or processors?
    • there’s a product for each stop along the value chain
    • SureTrack Farm is specific for farmers, and there’s an additional interface available for grain buyers
  • How has farm size growth impacted marketing strategy?
    • trying to offer a more robust support for operators as they get bigger, but also offer it for small producers as well
    • AGI Service trucks on the road to work with producers directly
    • farm size is definitely relative to your operation and where you are (five acres of rice in China vs. thousands of mixed crop acres in Western Canada)
  • What’s been the hotter seller the last few years: big bins or grain dryers?
    • grain dryers in Western Canada, but it depends on the region
  • Providing as much information all along the growth process to make it easier to market the grain and possibly affect premiums
  • What’s the biggest challenge you’re finding in terms of managing traceability through the supply chain?
    • the challenge is co-mingled product at almost every level
    • more segregation through the supply chain is necessary
    • it’s a challenge that can be met with better technology
  • How will traceability tie into the other platforms? Like LinkedIn with John Deere or Farm At Hand-type platforms? And/or profitability data if costs are in there?
    • Automating collection of all the data, and able to look at inventory levels of every input
    • linking it into the system live and right off the field gives you a live P&L; there’s also an accounting system
    • easy and intuitive are the base measures
  • When you’re talking to lawmakers, how much concern is there with rural broadband and the capacity to keep up with the cutting edge of technology
    • right now the system uses cellular and can bounce to wifi, if available
    • based on cell connectivity and operating in low connectivity regions
    • working with groups to increase connectivity
  • Thoughts on data and privacy
    • the data is all owned by the customers — the data is all theirs, and it’s that simple
    • it’s really important that the data not be flowing anywhere or being used anywhere else
  • How do you manage innovation with different brands and different products?
    • it starts with the voice of the customer — talking with end users to find what’s working and what needs to be done
    • ideas go to the engineers and production teams, then back to the users for prototypes and beta trials

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